Research Topics

Research in the research and business hub of Baden-Württemberg is focused on areas that provide the biggest growth potential for the future. Research Topics can be found in the following fields: Energy, Industry 4.0, Artificial Intelligence, Medical technology, Mobility, Physics, Social Sciences and Environmental technology. In some areas, Baden-Württemberg has set up state agencies to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and Technology between researchers and businesses. They include BIOPRO BW, e-mobil BW, Leichtbau BW, Medien- und Filmgesellschaft BW and Umwelttechnik BW.

The state also supports a number of areas that are important for research. For example, its high-performance computing strategy includes all levels of high-performance computing in Baden-Württemberg and is coordinated with national and European strategies. The universities and non-university research institutions receive funding in the area of e-science. The aim is to build and develop an e-science infrastructure that is fit for the future.

Energy 

The Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage Ulm & Karlsruhe, or ‘CELEST’ for short, carries out research in Baden-Württemberg on powerful and environmentally friendly energy storage systems for the future. One of the things the scientists from Europe’s largest research platform for electrochemical energy storage want to achieve is to lay the foundations for a battery technology that doesn’t need lithium. Their findings will show the way forward for electric cars and power grids.

Since 2018, CELEST has pooled the expertise of three major research institutions in Baden-Württemberg. They are Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Ulm University and the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) in Ulm, which also operates Europe’s largest pilot plant for battery cell manufacture. These partners also work together in the Post Lithium Storage (POLiS) Cluster of Excellence, which has a significant influence on the content of the CELEST research area for post-lithium batteries. POLiS is receiving federal and state funding of roughly EUR 50 million for an initial period of seven years within the framework of Germany’s Excellence Strategy. Furthermore, the three institutions are involved in using a new key technology to set up a European Materials Acceleration Platform, called ‘MAP’ for short. The collaboration involves developing and operating autonomous AI-based robotics that will considerably speed up the search for new functional materials. This will make CELEST a hub for European battery activities.

Industry 4.0 

More than 40 partners from science and business are working on the mobility and production of the future at the research campus ARENA2036 – “Active Research Environment for the Next Generation of Automobiles” – in Stuttgart-Vaihingen. Founded in 2013, the innovation platform is characterised by its interdisciplinary approach across industries and technologies and aims to help strengthen Baden-Württemberg’s leading position in the automotive industry.

Inside the 130 metre long, 46 metre wide and 16 metre high research factory on the university campus in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, work on the production world of the future is diligently under way. Small self-driving vehicles roll boxes of materials to individual stations in the hall, robots and humans work hand in hand to assemble components, machines are powered by induction on an intelligent floor, and LED luminous strips in the floor assist the workers in their tasks. Welcome to ARENA2036! The highly flexible research platform for the mobility and production of the future is one research campus of nine supported by the funding initiative “Research Campus – Public-Private Partnership for Innovations” by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Since 2013, scientists from the University of Stuttgart, Fraunhofer, the German Institute of Textile and Fiber Research Denkendorf and the German Aerospace Center have been working together with developers and engineers from companies like Daimler, Bosch and Trumpf as well as start-ups on adaptive automobile production for the future. The research work is focused on the automobile, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2036.

Artificial Intelligence 

Whether in the form of optimised algorithms, self-driving cars or ‘seeing’ rescue robots, artificial intelligence will soon not only make our everyday lives easier but also strengthen entire industry sectors, safeguarding health and ensuring more safety. This is the kind of research under way in Baden-Württemberg’s Cyber Valley, Europe’s largest initiative for artificial intelligence. The German Southwest wants to use this niche to make sure that it is among the frontrunners for the key technology of the 21st century.

In December 2016, a meeting in Stuttgart between representatives of the state government, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS), the Universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen as well as partners from industry like Daimler and Bosch was held to found Cyber Valley and pave the way for this development. Their goal was that Europe’s largest initiative for artificial intelligence (AI) would combine the research activities of international stakeholders from science and industry and create a thriving cluster for technology transfer. The State of Baden-Württemberg is providing funding of roughly EUR 165 million to establish and expand Cyber Valley at the locations in Stuttgart and Tübingen in a bid to secure Baden-Württemberg a leading position with the key technology of the 21st century.

Medical technology 

The “Mannheim Molecular Intervention Environment” (M2OLIE) Research Campus is a flagship project in medical technology in the Rhine-Neckar region. Within the framework of a public-private partnership, around 100 researchers are working on developing a highly efficient intervention environment that allows for comprehensive treatment of cancer patients with multiple metastases. The aim is to create the intervention room of the future, where the patient will receive a precise diagnosis and therapy all in one day as part of a one-stop shop solution.

The patient enters his data using a tablet, and the data immediately becomes part of his electronic patient file. From that moment, the further treatment in the intervention room is planned automatically: The patient’s body is scanned using different imaging systems. The data is collated, allowing the precise location of the metastases to be determined. The patient can have tissue samples taken in the adjacent room without having to leave the treatment table. The treating physician is assisted by a robot, meaning that each biopsy is performed in just a few minutes. Without this technical assistance, the doctor would need much longer. The tissue samples are examined for molecules that clearly indicate cancer – a particularly fast method that is only used in Mannheim. On this basis, doctors decide on the best course of treatment for the patient. The group of treating physicians meet virtually – which likewise saves time. Therapy can then commence, for example in the form of radiation or an injection of particles that destroy cancer cells. The patient can leave the hospital on the same day, either having completed his therapy or with a recommendation to battle the tumour using drugs. Roughly 100 scientists have been working together on the M2OLIE Research Campus since 2013 to make this vision of a one-day one-stop shop for cancer patients a reality. The project is the only one of its kind in the world. Although research into innovative tumour therapies is also being carried out elsewhere, in particular the process of diagnosing the patient still takes too long for treatment to be completed within a day.

Mobility 

Seven research institutions have come together to form the “High Performance Center for Mobility Research” in Karlsruhe, where they are developing the mobility concepts of the future. The research involves not only electric vehicles and driverless cars but also sustainable fuels and human-machine interaction. The aim of this innovation platform is to ensure that Baden-Württemberg retains its leading position even as the face of mobility changes.

The future of mobility will be more and more automated and connected. For example, connected self-driving cars offer major potential. However, it won’t be possible to replace the entire fleet of vehicles on the roads overnight. This is why scientists are carrying out research into moves that can be taken in the transition phase – where old and new cars will be sharing the roads – and what benefits these can bring (for example cooperative merging on an expressway). This study is just one of many projects being undertaken by the High Performance Center for Mobility Research in Karlsruhe. Alongside Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), four Fraunhofer institutes, Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences and FZI Research Center for Information Technology are involved in the High Performance Center. The Center was created in 2016 to combine competencies for mobility solutions at the Karlsruhe location. The aim of this innovation platform is to ensure that the German Southwest retains its leading position even as the face of mobility changes.

Physics 

The Cluster of Excellence STRUCTURES at Heidelberg University addresses questions about the formation, role and detection of structure in a broad range of natural phenomena, from subatomic particles to cosmology and from fundamental quantum physics to neuroscience. The interdisciplinary research initiative attracts renowned scientists from all over the globe and ties young researchers to Baden-Württemberg as a research location.

More than 50 professors and research group leaders and over 80 international young researchers take the space and the time to reflect on and research universal structures in a broad range of natural phenomena – funded by federal and state funding as part of Germany’s Excellence Strategy.

In seven comprehensive projects, they are working on four central scientific topics: How do structures result from prescribed laws? How can we recognise these structures, particularly in large quantities of data? What can we use these structures for? And what unifies all of the structures? The projects from the fields of physics, astronomy and mathematics range from the reionisation of the universe after the big bang to neural activity patterns in the brain as well as networks, machine learning, quantum geometry and topological methods in physics. What all of the phenomena studied have in common is that they are all based on physical processes. Long-term funding such as that provided by the Excellence Strategy provides scope for large projects, but also for an idea that – characteristically for Heidelberg – could turn science on its head: STRUCTURES College. The College gives the researchers space and dedicated time to develop and reflect on their ideas separately from their other commitments.

Social Sciences 

Around the globe, populist movements are gaining in strength and creating societal division. From the widening gap between rich and poor to equal opportunities in education or discussions around gender, many of the issues currently being debated relate to inequality. Even in the fight against climate change, the debate around burden sharing is central. This political dimension to inequality is the subject of interdisciplinary research being undertaken by around 60 researchers from the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality” at the University of Konstanz.

The Cluster of Excellence was established in 2019. The researchers there are taking a closer look at the political dimension to inequality. The first question the Cluster asks is how inequality is perceived subjectively and whether this subjective perception differs from the objective reality. Secondly, the researchers want to find out the extent to which perceptions lead to political mobilisation, such as protests or changes in voting patterns. The third area of research is to determine to what extent this triggers political reform processes that have an effect on inequality. This bundled expertise reflects the societal relevance of the topic. Researchers from the political sciences, economics, sociology, linguistics, psychology, the legal sciences and education research have formed an alliance, with the primary focus on the empirical social sciences. The Cluster’s work builds on the interdisciplinary tradition fostered by the University of Konstanz as well as on existing research into inequality by other institutions. The projects involve collecting survey data, carrying out interviews with experts and analysing political discourse using computer linguistics methods. In terms of content, the projects focus on matters like the labour market, education and political participation in addition to the extensively researched areas of income and wealth inequality. For example, one of the Cluster’s projects investigates how digitalisation and automation impact on different areas of politics, while another examines the perception of gender and seniority wage inequality. Other projects are looking at topics such as how young peoples’ perception of inequality develops over time or what rights ethnic minorities have and at what point their protests against discrimination turn violent.

Environmental technology 

As a location for science and academia, Freiburg has become an important engine for developing technologies related to sustainability – thanks in no small part to the Sustainability Center Freiburg (LZN). Since 2015, scientists at the University of Freiburg and the city’s five Fraunhofer Institutes have been carrying out interdisciplinary research in the fields of sustainable materials, energy systems, resilience engineering and approaches for ecological and societal transformation.

“Imagine a pure-grade composite made from plastic that is self-reinforcing, can be made from carbon dioxide, biomas or waste and that can be virtually entirely recycled”, says Professor Dr. Rolf Mülhaupt, “then you know what we are planning.” The Professor of Chemistry is Director of the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF) at the University of Freiburg. His research project is funded by the Sustainability Center Freiburg. All of the Center’s projects marry basic research with the development of prototypes that are essentially marketable. Teams comprising scientists from the University of Freiburg and at least one of Fraunhofer’s five Institutes for Applied Research work together on all of the projects. Together with colleagues from the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials and the company Lyondell-Basell, Mülhaupt undertakes research into mixes of low, medium and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylenes.

The objective of the Sustainability Center is to provide technical and scientific answers to questions relating to sustainability. The Center’s engineering core comprises the Department of Sustainable Systems Engineering (INATECH) at the University of Freiburg, which was founded in 2015 and will ultimately number 14 Chairs. The Center offers workshops, liaises with industry and provides support for start-ups. The research projects relate to the areas of sustainable materials, energy systems, resilience engineering and societal and ecological transformation. Researchers are working on refining LED lighting, using drones to scan natural surfaces, or on new testing methods for power electronic components that can lengthen the service life of inverters in solar units or fast-charging stations for electric vehicles.